Interactions between a trawl fishery and spatial closures for biodiversity conservation in the Great Barrier reef World Heritage Area, Australia

Alana Grech*, Rob Coles

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    Background: The Queensland East Coast Otter Trawl Fishery (ECOTF) for penaeid shrimp fishes within Australia's Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). The past decade has seen the implementation of conservation and fisheries management strategies to reduce the impact of the ECOTF on the seabed and improve biodiversity conservation. New information from electronic vessel location monitoring systems (VMS) provides an opportunity to review the interactions between the ECOTF and spatial closures for biodiversity conservation. Methodology and Results: We used fishing metrics and spatial information on the distribution of closures and modelled VMS data in a geographical information system (GIS) to assess change in effort of the trawl fishery from 2001-2009 and to quantify the exposure of 70 reef, non-reef and deep water bioregions to trawl fishing. The number of trawlers and the number of days fished almost halved between 2001 and 2009 and new spatial closures introduced in 2004 reduced the area zoned available for trawl fishing by 33%. However, we found that there was only a relatively minor change in the spatial footprint of the fishery as a result of new spatial closures. Non-reef bioregions benefited the most from new spatial closures followed by deep and reef bioregions. Conclusions/Significance: Although the catch of non target species remains an issue of concern for fisheries management, the small spatial footprint of the ECOTF relative to the size of the GBRWHA means that the impact on benthic habitats is likely to be negligible. The decline in effort as a result of fishing industry structural adjustment, increasing variable costs and business decisions of fishers is likely to continue a trend to fish only in the most productive areas. This will provide protection for most benthic habitats without any further legislative or management intervention.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere21094
    Pages (from-to)1-7
    Number of pages7
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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